A complete, versatile and hard-working winger, known for his pace, stamina, offensive capabilities, distribution and technical skills, Donadoni was capable of playing on either flank, or even in the centre. Donadoni began his career with Atalanta, and he later became a pillar of the powerhouse Milan team of the late 1980s and early '90s, achieving notable domestic and international success during his time with the club. In his later career, he was also one of the pioneers of Major League Soccer, where he played two seasons for the NY/NJ MetroStars, ending his career with Saudi Premier League side Ittihad in 2000.
At international level, Donadoni was also an important member of the Italy national team throughout the late 1980s and early '90s. He represented his country at the 1988 and 1996 European Championships, and at the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups. With Italy, he reached the semi-finals of Euro 1988, and won bronze and silver medals at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups respectively.
Following his playing career, Donadoni began a career as a manager in 2001, which included spells with Italian clubs Lecco, Livorno and Genoa. He was later appointed head coach of the Italy national team, succeeding Marcello Lippi, who resigned after having won the 2006 World Cup. At Euro 2008, with Donadoni as coach, Italy reached the quarter-finals of the tournament, losing to eventual champions Spain on penalties. On 26 June 2008, Donadoni was dismissed despite having signed a contract extension prior to the beginning of Euro 2008, using a clause in the contract which allowed termination if Italy did not reach the semi-final. He was replaced by Lippi, who returned as national team manager. Following his position as Italy head coach, Donadoni managed Napoli, Cagliari and Parma, until the latter club's bankruptcy in 2015. He then joined Bologna the following season.
Donadoni started his career with Atalanta in 1982, winning the Serie C1 title, and the Serie B title in 1984. He joined Milan in 1986 and he became a mainstay in the legendary team that dominated Italy and Europe in the late 1980s and early-to-mid-1990s. Usually playing a right-sided wide midfield role, Donadoni was a vital part of Milan's squad under both Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello, winning six Serie A titles, three European Cups, four Supercoppa Italiana, three European Super Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups during his time at Milan. Although Donadoni failed to win the Coppa Italia with Milan, he reached the final twice, during the 1989–90 and 1997–98 seasons.
Donadoni came close to being one of a handful of players to ever die on-field, during the 1989–90 European Cup campaign in a match against Red Star Belgrade. He had his life saved only through the quick-thinking of Red Star's physiotherapist, who broke his jaw to make a passage for oxygen to reach his lungs after he had suffered a bad foul and lay unconscious.
After winning his fifth Serie A title with Milan, and following the retirement of several key Milan players, including Franco Baresi and Mauro Tassotti, as well as the departure of manager Fabio Capello, Donadoni temporarily retired from professional football, although he later went on to play in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States. The NY/NJ MetroStars of MLS made him a centerpiece of their franchise when they signed him in 1996. During his first year with the Metros, he was recalled to the Italy national team. He proved a solid performer, being named to the league Best XI in 1996, and was also named an MLS Eastern Conference All-Star, winning the inaugural 1996 MLS All-Star Game 3–2 over the Western Conference MLS All-Stars. Unfortunately, Donadoni's play could not bring the MetroStars any success as a club. In total, Donadoni scored six goals for the MetroStars.
Donadoni briefly rejoined Milan after the 1997 MLS season, helping lead them to another Coppa Italia final in 1998 during Fabio Capello's second spell with the club. He also won another Serie A title under Alberto Zaccheroni in 1999, his sixth and final career Serie A title. In total, Donadoni scored 18 career Serie A goals for Milan in 287 appearances, and 23 in 390 appearances throughout all competitions.
He ended his career by playing for a short time with Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia, winning the Saudi Premier League during the 1999–2000 season, and officially retiring from professional football soon after.
A member of the Italy under-21 national football team, reaching the final of the 1986 UEFA European Under-21 Championship, Donadoni made his Italy national team senior debut on 8 October 1986, under Azeglio Vicini in a 2–0 victory over Greece. He soon became a key member of his national side, reaching the semi-finals of Euro 1988, and he subsequently played in the 1990 FIFA World Cup, on home soil, helping Italy to a third place finish. Unfortunately, he missed one of the penalties in the fateful semi-final shoot-out against defending champions and eventual runners-up Argentina. Overall, he made five appearances throughout the tournament, missing out on the round of 16 victory against Uruguay due to injury, and the bronze medal match victory against England.
Donadoni also took part at the 1994 World Cup, under Arrigo Sacchi, helping Italy to a second-place finish, where Italy would once again be defeated on penalties, by Brazil. However, on this occasion Donadoni did not take a penalty in the final shoot-out. En-route to the final, he set up Dino Baggio's goal in Italy's 2–1 quarter-final victory over Spain, and also provided the throw-in on the left flank from which Roberto Baggio scored his first goal in Italy's 2–1 over Bulgaria in the semi-finals of the tournament. He also represented Italy at Euro 1996, which would be his final international tournament prior to his international retirement, appearing in all three group matches. His final appearance for Italy was on 19 June 1996, in the final group match, which ended in a 0–0 draw against the eventual champions Germany, eliminating the Italians in the first round of the tournament. Overall, Donadoni made 63 appearances for Italy, scoring five goals.
Regarded as one of Italy's greatest ever wingers, Donadoni was a quick, consistent, intelligent and complete wide midfielder, who was capable of playing on either wing, through the centre, or even as an attacking midfielder, although he was most frequently deployed on the right flank. A highly talented player, who was an important member of his club and national sides throughout his career, he stood out for his pace, agility, and his outstanding technical ability; his acceleration, control, dribbling skills, and creativity allowed him to beat players with feints when undertaking individual runs. A hard-working, tactically versatile and energetic player, he was also known for his stamina, which allowed him to contribute defensively as well as offensively, as well as his vision and distribution, which enabled him to function as a box-to-box player. Donadoni possessed a unique capability to deliver assists to teammates in the area from accurate curling crosses and set-pieces. He was also a powerful and accurate striker of the ball from distance with both feet, despite being naturally right-footed. Michel Platini described him as Italy's greatest player of the 1990s.
After retiring as a player, Donadoni trained to become a coach. His first job was as Lecco and he made his debut on 12 August 2001 in the Coppa Italia Lega Pro. This was followed by jobs with Livorno (2002–03) and Genoa (2003). In 2005, he returned to head Livorno in mid-season. After leading them to a surprising ninth-place finish and having the club in sixth place midway through the 2005–06 season, Donadoni resigned over criticism from club chairman Aldo Spinelli.
On July 2006, following the resignation of Marcello Lippi immediately after the Italy national team won the 2006 World Cup, Donadoni was named as new Italian head coach, his first task being to successfully lead Italy through qualification for UEFA Euro 2008.
On 16 August, Donadoni made his Italy head coaching debut in a friendly match against Croatia played at Stadio Armando Picchi, Livorno, which did not feature any of the 23 world champions, save for third goalkeeper Marco Amelia, and ended in a 2–0 defeat. Donadoni took solace in the fact Lippi's first match in charge of the Azzurri was also a friendly defeat, to Iceland.
Donadoni's competitive debut came in Euro 2008 qualifying. Italy drew its first match 1–1 with Lithuania, then lost 3–1 to France. Accordingly, Italian newspaper La Nazione's front page featured, "How to reduce Lippi's masterwork to pieces in just three weeks," requesting the return of Lippi. However, despite all the critics, Donadoni led Italy to five wins in a row to Georgia (3–1), Ukraine (2–0) and Scotland (2–0), the former being controversial for his omission of star Alessandro Del Piero from the squad. One of the main criticisms addressed by the media towards Donadoni was his alleged lack of pressure in persuading Francesco Totti to play again for the Azzurri. Following a question regarding a possible call-up for the Roma player, Donadoni jokingly claimed not to know him.
Italy qualified for Euro 2008 after a successful campaign, topping the group ahead of France, in spite of the shaky start. They defeated Scotland 2–1 in Glasgow to confirm their qualification.
On 9 June 2008, Donadoni was handed the biggest defeat for Italy's national team in over 25 years by former Milan teammate Marco van Basten, a 3–0 loss to the Netherlands. Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro was unable to play due to injury, and Donadoni was widely criticised for his choice of players for the match. His team drew the subsequent match with Romania on 13 June, despite some controversial officiating which saw a goal called back in each of these games creating intense criticism of the officials. The team then beat France 2–0 on 17 June to progress to the quarter-finals against much-fancied Spain, the eventual champions. The two teams played out a 0–0 draw, the only match Spain was held scoreless in regular time throughout the tournament. However, the Spaniards won 4–2 on penalties.
After Italy's disappointing performance at the tournament, on 26 June 2008 Donadoni was sacked by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC), which named Marcello Lippi as his replacement.
On 10 March 2009, Napoli announced it had appointed Donadoni as its new head coach following the termination of Edoardo Reja after five years leading the club. Donadoni's first match in charge was a 1–1 draw with Reggina.
After a 2–1 loss to Roma on 6 October 2009, Donadoni was terminated as Napoli manager. He was replaced by former Sampdoria coach Walter Mazzarri.
On 16 November 2010, it was announced Donadoni would become head coach of Serie A relegation battlers Cagliari, replacing Pierpaolo Bisoli. After joining Cagliari, the club won its next two matches, 2–1 against Brescia on 21 November and 3–2 against Lecce on 28 November.
However, on 12 August 2011, two weeks prior to the start of the 2011–12 Serie A, Donadoni was surprisingly sacked by Cagliari chairman Massimo Cellino. Italian press sources cited divergencies between Donadoni and Cellino regarding the sale of Alessandro Matri to Juventus and the affair involving David Suazo, who first joined the pre-season training camp only to be asked to leave days later.
Donadoni was in talks with Iran Pro League side Persepolis in December 2011. However, no contract was reached.
On 9 January 2012, Donadoni was unveiled as head coach of Serie A club Parma, replacing Franco Colomba. Upon arriving at the club, the situation in the league table was critical for Parma, being close to the relegation zone.
Parma's results improved immediately under Donadoni, winning seven Serie A matches in a row, a club record. Parma would finish the season in eighth place in the league table, equal on points with seventh-placed Roma.
Donadoni's initial contract ran until 2013, but this was extended by two years in October 2012, the longest deal club president Tommaso Ghirardi had made with a head coach. At the end of the 2012–13 season, Parma impressed and finished in a comfortable tenth place, despite initial fears it would be relegated. In 2014, Donadoni guided Parma to sixth place in Serie A, helping the club to qualify for the UEFA Europa League for the first time since 2007. However, their entry to the tournament was barred because of the late payment of income tax on salaries, failing to qualify for a UEFA license, for which the club would also be docked seven points during the 2014–15 Serie A season.
The following season, Parma's continuing severe financial difficulties led to the club's eventual bankruptcy in March 2015, which meant the club be relegated. Although the FIGC allowed the club to complete the league season in Serie A, they finished bottom of the league in 20th place. Donadoni, who reported that he, as well as the Parma staff and players, had not received wages since July 2014, left the club at the end of the season.
In October 2015, Donadoni was hired by newly promoted Serie A club Bologna as the club's new coach, replacing the recently sacked Delio Rossi.As of 19 September 2017
Serie A (6): 1987–88, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99; Runner-up (2): 1989–90, 1990–91
Coppa Italia Runner-up (2): 1989–90, 1997–98
Supercoppa Italiana (4): 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994
European Cup/Champions League (3): 1988–89, 1989–90, 1993–94; Runner-up (2): 1992–93, 1994–95
UEFA Super Cup (3): 1989, 1990, 1994; Runner-up (1): 1993
Intercontinental Cup (2): 1989, 1990; Runner-up (2): 1993, 1994
Serie B (1): 1983–84
Serie C1 (1): 1981–82
Saudi Premier League (1): 1999–2000
Italy national football team
FIFA World Cup Third-place: 1990
FIFA World Cup Runners-up: 1994
UEFA European Championship Semi-finalists: 1988
UEFA U-21 European Football Championship Runners-up: 1986
MLS All-star: 1996, 1997
MLS Best XI: 1996
Premio Nazionale Carriera Esemplare "Gaetano Scirea": 1998
Premio internazionale Giacinto Facchetti: 2015
A.C. Milan Hall of Fame
5th Class/Knight: Cavaliere Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana